Don’t let that cheeky, chocolate covered grin fool you. This last week has been a real struggle with Rex. As people like to constantly remind me, ‘they don’t call it the terrible twos for nothing’. Yeah, no shit. Toddlers are renowned for being difficult, I know. But never having had my own up to this point, I was extremely naive as to exactly what that meant. A tantrum here and there, sure, but how hard can managing a tiny human be?
Really fucking hard, is the answer.
Over the past few weeks I’ve noticed a change in Rex’s behaviour. He’s, frankly, rude, shouty and doesn’t listen. It doesn’t take much of this behaviour to really get my back up, and so every time he’s like it, I’ve come down quite hard on him. Very firmly explaining he will not talk to me (or anyone else) like it and, on occasion, shouting at him when he’s been so rude I’ve lost my cool.
It was all brought to a head recently when I spent the day with him and, from start to finish, it was like a war zone. We argued about everything, to the point where he got so angry with me, he screamed so loud it almost brought the house down. I’m ashamed to admit I followed suit. I screamed much louder and for much longer. So much so, it scared him and he burst into tears.
Not my finest hour as a mum.
In that moment, I fully regressed to toddler status. The only thing my brain could think to do to release all the anger and frustration I felt was to scream. I felt awful instantly, and it was that point that I knew something had to give. My strategy of shouting at and punishing Rex with time outs for his behaviour wasn’t working. If anything it felt like it was making him even more defiant.
If you read my last blog post you’ll know I recently got lectured at nursery about the use of the word ‘naughty’. At the time I was pretty pissed about it. My defences went up and I was upset at the thought that someone was questioning (criticising) my style of parenting. Off the back of my post, a lovely lady (thank you Katie Groves) recommended I read Sarah Ockwell-Smith’s Gentle Discipline book. Fed up of being at war with my son, I decided an open mind was in order and I bought a copy.
I’ll be honest, I’ve always thought of ‘positive parenting’ as an approach that’s asking for trouble. My understanding of it was basically where kids are allowed to just do whatever the fuck they want, which is never the parent I was going to be. But, and unsurprisingly not for the first time as a mum, I was wrong.
What positive parenting actually teaches is the art of trying understand your child and the root cause of their behaviour. It’s about treating them with empathy and respect, which doesn’t mean letting them walk all over you. More that it’s worth taking a moment before you react to a situation and assessing the best way to deal with it.
I found Sarah’s book really insightful, and not at all preachy. She admits to her own mistakes (much like my shouty one above) and tries to hammer home how, when kids act up, we need to remember at what stage of brain development they are at. It made me realise a lot of time my frustration with Rex is because I have unrealistic expectations of him. I expect my two-year-old to understand a situation as an adult would, which is wildly unfair. He may be a fucking unit, but in terms of brain development, he is still tiny.
The book also made me realise there are many ways, other than time outs and shouting, to discipline a child. A line that really resonated with me was this: “It’s amazing how a lot of the time we treat our children in a way that we ourselves would never tolerate“. That really hit home. I would never tolerate or be responsive to someone shouting at me all the time, so why am I expecting Rex to?
I know there is a difference and, as adults, we have the capability to understand situations children don’t. But when she explains our role as teachers, I have to admit, the best ones I had growing up were caring, empathetic and understanding. They certainly didn’t scream at the top of their voice when I was struggling or upset.
The problem, however, with this is that toddlers don’t play by the rules. They press every damn button they can, and staying a calm, reasonable adult in the thick of that can be so hard. However, in the past 48 hours, I have made a real conscious effort to stay calm and put myself in Rex’s shoes in any given situation. Don’t get me wrong, it has taken a lot of self control and will, but the result has been one meltdown in two days. One. To put that into context, on Friday (when I had my screaming fit), we had at least five times that.
Unless it’s a wild coincidence and Rex has just decided to play nice this weekend, the only thing I can put it down to is my reaction to his emotions. I’ve talked to him calmly and, when he’s rude, explained how it makes me feel and asked him to think of (and helped him with a) better way he could say or ask for something.
Rudeness is the one thing I absolutely cannot stand. It makes my whole being cringe when Rex is rude. But I have to remember he currently has no real concept of empathy or how what he’s saying makes other people feel so I have to be more forgiving.
No miracle cure (sadly)
I’m not for a second suggesting that this is some miracle cure to toddlers being twats. Or that it works for everyone. I have really had to bite my tongue even in the past two days. And I can imagine on a stressful day, when he won’t put his shoes on and we’re already half hour late, it will be incredible testing for me to remain calm.
All I do know is that the discipline techniques I was using with Rex weren’t working and so I’m doing my best to try to make things better. And in the past 48 hours, since my approach and attitude has changed, my toddler, mind and household in general has been a whole lot calmer.
If you’re in a similar situation with your kids, whatever age, I would honestly recommend giving this book a read. If will, at least, give you a little insight as to why your child might be behaving in a certain way, as well as provide so valuable tips/takeaways to help you try and manage your own emotions.
I spend so much of my time trying not to fuck Rex up that I often worry I’m doing exactly that. But this has reassured me that, while Rex’s behaviour can be a bit shit right now, it’s actually very normal. And that peace of mind that I haven’t, in fact, spawned the devil is worth every bit of the £7.99 the book cost me. I would offer it out on loan, but I have a feeling this is one I will need to refer to a LOT in the coming days, weeks, months… (you get the idea) 😉